The Need for French Fluency in a Government Post Questioned

Peter B. GiblettStarred Page By Peter B. Giblett, 18th Feb 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>News>Politics

Every once in a while you hear of a political scandal that has all the hallmarks of stupidity. The question of whether Canada's new Foreign Affairs Minister MUST speak French is one such question.

French Fluency Questioned

Our local MP, Rob Nicholson, was recently given the post of Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister and immediately there was an uproar from Quebec Premier, Phillippe Couillard, that he should not have been given the post because he is not fluent in the French language, this raises the question of whether such a post MUST be given to a bilingual politician?

To this commentator this is not a question of whether this person is capable of doing the job, but whether he should be barred because he does not speak Canada's second official language. This is not even one of party politics (other than Couillard attempting to reignite the Quebec question) because if the local people of Niagara Falls wish to change MPs then they get that opportunity in October 2015.

Apparently Nicholson has taken French lessons in the past in an attempt to improve his knowledge of the language. He has held several cabinet posts during the tenure of the current Stephen Harper Government and should be considered as one of the top members of the Federal Conservative Party, He is a Niagara Falls native and was first elected as an MP for the Greater Niagara Falls Riding in 1984 and has represented this area ever since.

French Language a Job Requirement?

NDP leader Tom Mulcair also weighed in on this issue accusing Nicholson of never wavering from Conservative Party dogma and his inability to speak French means the Federal Government is shutting out a segment of Canadian society and shows it isn't open to the rest of the world.

Having explored Canadian constitutional documents there is nothing that states a minister MUST speak French. Yet at the same time it is important to flip this question about and ask whether in order to attain a senior government post there is a requirement to speak French? It should be considered wrong to make such a demand because Canada has two official languages and there are more Canadians that speak English than French.

Nicholson responds in English (after listening to live translations) when facing questions in the House of Commons, there is no doubt he is fluent in one of the nation's official languages and there is no legal requirement he be fluent in both.

Quebec and the French Question

Currently in Canada 21.3% of the population have French as their mother-tongue, the vast majority of these live within the Province of Quebec. More than 85% of Canadians have a working knowledge of English, compared to less than 30% with French. Yet also more than 20% (6.8 million people) of the Canadian population have a mother tongue of a language other than French or English, with more than 1 million people who speak one of the Chinese dialects. All these figures were courtesy of Statistics Canada.

At the last Federal General Election in Canada the Quebec separatist organisation Parti Québécois was decimated, effectively stating that to the modern people of Quebec the cause of Quebec independence was dead. The continuance of French as the official language is still clearly an important question though.

Election?

Perhaps the real question here is the opportunity for a little electioneering with a Federal General Election due on October 19th 2015 and decision by any party leader is subject to attempts to make political capital. Whether you like it or not Stephen Harper (who is bilingual) is the Prime Minister till that date and he makes the ministerial appointments. On that date the nation of Canada (including the people of the Greater Niagara area) will decide who its representatives are and whether their existing government will continue for another term, or whether new representatives will be elected.

Images

  • Rob Nicholson by CBC
  • French by 4dsofttech.com
  • Bon Jour by reknownedu com
  • Canadian Political Map 2011 by socialmediacamp.ca

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Tags

2015 Election, Bilingual Politician, Canada, Canadian Society, Election, English, Fluent, French, Government, Minister Of Foreign Affarirs, Ndp Leader, Peter B Giblett, Quebec, Rob Nicholson, Segment, Shutting Out, Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
Author of "Is your Business Ready? For the Social Media Revolution"

Social media consultant, with C-Level background.

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Comments

author avatar Retired
19th Feb 2015 (#)

Excellent post! Congratulations, on your Star Page!

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
19th Feb 2015 (#)

It is unfair to ask anyone a question in a language they are not fluent in, but to require fluency is tough as well.

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author avatar Carol Roach
19th Feb 2015 (#)

As an English Queber I disagree with you. How about if the tables were turned and the individual mp spoke french only? Would you be in agreement of that? I people that the people who serve the top positions in the Canadian government should speak both languages. At least enough to be understood by the constituents,

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
19th Feb 2015 (#)

I am glad to find a Quebec native weighing in on this. I would have no problem having a person whose only language is French representing the country - it is an official language after all. My wife speaks 7 languages, but I am limited to one as language was not my forte, if I were interested in a senior government post then it should not be denied on the basis of my failure to speak another language, it should be available on the ability to perform the job. By the way only 0,6% of the population of our riding speak French, so it is not a big issue here.

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author avatar spirited
19th Feb 2015 (#)

I guess someone fluent in French would be able to think in that way too, and so be closer in mind to the French speaking part of the Community.

Canada is a strange place having two languages spoken like that, most places I know have only the one main one.

Thanks Peter, your article makes us think.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
19th Feb 2015 (#)

I am not so sure that Canada is all that strange. In the USA many cities have Spanish speakers, in the UK Welsh is also an official language, and in the EU laws are written in 15 languages.

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author avatar M G Singh
19th Feb 2015 (#)

I rememebr reading that De Gaulle visited Quebec which is French speaking. I suppose language problems bedevil everywhere

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author avatar Harris Mungai
19th Feb 2015 (#)

Is Canada a French speaking nation?

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
19th Feb 2015 (#)

There are two official languages in Canada English and French and there are historical reasons for this with the French ceding their North American colonies in the 1760s.

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author avatar Retired
19th Feb 2015 (#)

This is an appointment for a Foreign Affairs post - so what does it matter whether the postholder can speak all the languages of the home country? His job is to converse with the leaders of other countries, so an ability to speak French only matters when talking to Frenchmen!

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
19th Feb 2015 (#)

Exactly John.

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
19th Feb 2015 (#)

Peter, excellent article! Congratulations on the star. I truly do not feel qualified to make a comment because the only language I know is English and I'm not sure of the impact of speaking different languages in a Foreign Affairs post. I think I'm going to go along with John's comment. It makes sense to me.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
19th Feb 2015 (#)

Nancy, I can only think about it in terms of the people that I have dealt with over the years of my life, they have come from many countries, Russia, Germany, France, Greece, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, USA, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and a few others but somehow we have managed to communicate. People in such a position have translators available even when they have good command of the language.

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
19th Feb 2015 (#)

Peter, I never thought about translators. That is such a good point. Thank you for sharing that with me. I'm so impressed with you. To know people from all these countries is so amazing to me.

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
20th Feb 2015 (#)

Nancy, well I have spent some time travelling this wonderful globe of ours.

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
20th Feb 2015 (#)

Peter, to me the world is this big unknown place but to you I'm sure it is much more familiar. That in itself is a gift.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
24th Feb 2015 (#)

Language, like its bigger 'cousin" belief, makes people go bonkers and emotional fools. We forget we are human and can understand each other even without it!

Can anyone clarify in which language they conduct one to one conversation between China/Russia leaders, British/French leaders, German/French leaders, okay even American/British leaders?

India also has/had issues with it; to expect me to speak Hindi like a person from its heartland is more than unfair. After all, English gave many Indians the wheels to transplant themselves "everywhere"!

I agree this is more of an emotional issue and the right person - prime consideration should be he should be a Canadian - holds the post. Why see differences where there are none? siva

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author avatar Peter B. Giblett
24th Feb 2015 (#)

Thank you Siva for a well reasoned thought on this matter.

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